Monday, July 30, 2007

The Cliff

I was all about looking brave that day. But my heart was pounding so hard in my chest that I was certain the others could have heard it if they stood too close. I had to keep relaxing my face, my shoulders, every few seconds. And breathing. Why does breathing seem so unnatural at times like this? The very act of breathing irritated me, like my body was suddenly this awkward contraption that I had to keep priming every few seconds to make it go.

Two of the others had already made the jump, and were splashing around in the deep blue currents 40 feet below, waving their arms and cheering me to get on with it. The other guy stood up top with me, grinning ear to ear like there was not one fearful bone in his body, looking at the water and then at me and then at the water again. Well? Well? Hurry up, will you! It's hot out here. His thoughts screamed at me. I wanted to deck him, but only shook out my arms and tried to look busy being relaxed and unhurried. I curled my toes over the rocky ledge and thought how it's best not to think at times like this. Just jump. Just jump. Just jump! C'mon jump already will you! You're only feeding the fear.

Somehow my body got tired of waiting, and jumped without me. I caught up with it a few seconds later as my head rose out of the cold deep blue and sucked in the cleanest breath of air I'd had since I was a kid who didn't know any better. And in the exhileration of the moment I wondered who that guy was that I had been just a few moments before. What was his problem? Why didn't he believe? Believing is so much more fun.

The cliff that day was in Peru, on the Urubamba River not far from the mighty Amazon. But as nerve-wracking and life-giving as that experience was, it was minor compared to another category of cliffs we all face in our lives from time to time: We might call it the Cliff of Faith, the Cliff of New Direction, the Cliff of the Unknown and Uncharted, the Cliff of the Big Dream. But whatever its name, its demand on our souls is always the same: Jump...or die.

I often talk about the metaphor of the cliff with my clients as a way to help them explore the reality of what they're facing, and the choice that lies before them. For every worthy endeavor in life, there is a leap of absolute surrender and trust that must be taken. Usually, in fact, there are many such leaps in the course of the journey of exploring the limits of your potential, and becoming more than you have previously believed possible. But the first jump is always the most terrifying of all. Will God come through? Will I survive? What if I lose everything? Will I have what it takes to carry this through?

The journey of becoming is not for the weak of heart. It requires extraordinary courage and faith--the willingness to let go of what is comfortable and secure in order to reach out and grasp the noble dream that is far bigger than you can master without God's power to aid you. Cliff jumping is essential to the process of personal transformation. Without leaping off a few terrifying precipieces, you will never become all that you were created to be.

  • Where in your life are you standing on a cliff?

  • What is the noble dream that holds you there?

  • What is the fear that holds you back from jumping?

You have the freedom to choose what kind of life you will live. You don't have to jump. Lots of people don't. It's true, their lives may be safer for it. But are they better? Are they really, fully alive? As Thoreau observed, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

Don't settle for life on the cliff. Surrender yourself to God, and jump in the direction of His highest dream...for the life you could have, and the person you could become.

(From The Sojourner Newsletter, July 2007)


lyricalico said...

My daughter's girlfriend went cliff diving in Montana a couple of weeks ago, and nearly broke her back. She broke 2 vertebrae in her spine, has to leave college to come home and recuperate, wear a back brace, and is lucky to be able to still walk. I spoke with my daughter about the lessons here, and because of this writing (your blog) I found myself exploring other reasons for this disaster aside from "don't jump off of a cliff". One thing remains: whether cliff jumping of dream's a dangerous affair.

Anonymous said...

On July 30th I was at our family cottage in the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife...across the lake from the point on which our cottage sits there is a cliff face. I have grown up here; every summer I would swim, hike, snorkle, and yet, I have never jumped off the cliff. It sits about 15-20 feet high. I would go if someone would go with me. Someone I could trust. In fact, I would go even if someone was watching over me and didn't jump. The jump itself is not so intimidating, it is resurfacing that scares me. Will I emerge damaged (like lyricalico's daughter's girlfriend) or will I burst forth at the surface with a huge grin and a laugh of conquest?? This is the struggle that grips me far too often.